RADIATION

What is nuclear winter?

A nuclear winter is what would follow a large-scale nuclear war. Radioactive particles, dust, and smoke released into the atmosphere would create a large cloud over the planet, blocking out sunlight and reducing temperatures worldwide. Plants and animals would die due to the extremely low temperatures and reduction of sunlight. An extended nuclear winter could cause the death of millions of people from starvation, cold, and other problems.

We haven't had a nuclear war (yet), so what sources are creating radiation pollution?

Man-made radiation in the atmosphere comes from primarily two sources: nuclear weapons testing and leakage from nuclear reactors, the latter mostly a result of nuclear plant accidents. After the United States invented the atomic and hydrogen bombs, there was extensive testing from 1945 through 1968. Over three hundred warheads were detonated during that time, mostly in desert regions and on small Pacific islands. The result was huge quantities of radioactive isotopes being spewed into the air, including carbon-14, strontium-90, iodine-131, and cesium-137. While precautions were taken by the military so that no one was killed in the initial blasts, radioactivity in the air traveled on wind currents and poisoned areas hundreds of miles from the tests. For instance, two days after a May 1953 test in Nevada, radioactive hail—some stones the size of tennis balls—fell in Washington, D.C. Later, the United States tested nuclear weapons underground in an effort to curtail this air pollution, but, of course, the radioactive wastes of subterranean nuclear explosions can easily make their way into underground water supplies. Other nations, too, have conducted nuclear weapons tests over the years, contributing to the problem.

What is radon?

Radon is actually a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is emitted from ground sources of decaying uranium and radium. It only becomes a dangerous hazard within manmade structures, such as private homes, where the radon can seep into basements and build up to harmful, carcinogenic concentrations. Lung cancer is one of the primary potential threats of radon poisoning. The government standard for "safe" levels of radon is under four picocuries per liter, which is roughly the equivalent of smoking a half pack of cigarettes per day. Because it is impossible to say which homes are more at risk for radon pollution than others, it is best to install

While safety technology has improved significantly at nuclear power plants throughout the country, the radiation leak at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island back in 1979 remains in people's memories as a reminder of the risks to the environment.

While safety technology has improved significantly at nuclear power plants throughout the country, the radiation leak at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island back in 1979 remains in people's memories as a reminder of the risks to the environment.

radon detectors in the home. If a problem is detected, it can usually be solved by simple basement repairs or improving ventilation systems.

What was the world's worst nuclear disaster?

In April 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine, near the border with Belarus, had a major accident that released radiation into the atmosphere. The protective covering of the nuclear reactor exploded and deadly radiation escaped, immediately killing at least 28 people and giving 240 others radiation sickness, 19 of whom later died as a result. The radiation exposure that initially occurred is still killing people through related diseases, especially thyroid cancer, and this will continue for many years. More than 100,000 people were evacuated from the region, and deaths due to radiation poisoning continue as radioactive isotopes spread across Europe. The radiation cloud that resulted from the disaster traveled more than 1,300 miles (2,000 kilometers), infecting crops and livestock that then became unsafe to eat.

What happened at Three Mile Island?

Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, was the site of the United States's worst nuclear accident. Luckily, no radiation was released into the environment and no one was killed. In March, 1979, the nuclear reactor at the Three Mile Island plant overheated, breaking the radioactive rods. Pennsylvania's governor recommended a voluntary evacuation of pregnant women and preschool children who lived within five miles (eight kilometers) of the plant. It was the unexpected self-evacuation of residents in the area that created major problems. The evacuations yielded surprising information about the lack of preparedness of communities for such an event, and have led to increased planning and preparedness for nuclear accidents and evacuations.

 
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